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Specimens

From the most polluted river in America

Art and text by Amanda Keller Konya

Published in the September/October 2010 issue of Orion magazine




COMMON MODES of conveying information, such as science and journalism, fail to represent the complex reality of the New River, which flows north from Mexico into California—its use by illegal immigrants as a crossing point, its toxic state, the way it marks the boundary between public and private space. I was especially moved to undertake this project when I learned that the river, containing DDT, PCBs, and other dangerous chemicals, runs through California’s Imperial Valley, adjacent to crops grown and eaten every day by Americans nationwide. Illegal immigrants have direct contact with this chemical stew, and Border Patrol agents, as a matter of policy, don’t enter the water.

I produced the image component of this project at different access points to the river, collecting water samples along the way. Each image is enclosed in a specimen bottle and suspended in river water taken from the corresponding site. I labeled the bottles with traditional specimen tags, which record thoughts and experiences from police officers, Border Patrol agents, immigrants, hunters, activists, and community leaders. To play with ideas of image construction, I built a reversal of the photographic experience into the work: the viewer looks through the river water to see the photograph, whereas one typically would look at the photograph to see the river.

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Amanda Koller Konya is a Southern California native who received an MFA from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

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